University of Hertfordshire

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Spontaneous future cognition: the past, present and future of an emerging topic

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review


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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-650
Number of pages20
JournalPsychological Research
Early online date11 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


In this Editorial, we discuss the past, present and future of an emerging and fast-developing field—spontaneous future cognition. In tracking the past of this research, the trajectories of research on mind-wandering, episodic future thinking and prospective memory are briefly examined, and their relation with spontaneous future cognition demarcated. Three broad methodological approaches (questionnaire, naturalistic and laboratory) used to study spontaneous future thoughts are described, providing an overview of the field. The present state of this research is represented by a themed analysis of the articles included in this Special Issue. The breadth of studies (covering cognitive mechanisms, developmental stages and psychopathology) have already led to important insights, especially concerning the conditions in which spontaneous future thoughts most commonly arise and who may be predisposed to experiencing them. In the future, greater effort should focus on developing a theoretical account of spontaneous future cognition—this may increase our understanding of how and why spontaneous future thoughts occur. If future research in this area reflects the diversity and depth within this Special Issue, a flourishing of research on spontaneous future cognition will be on the horizon in years or perhaps decades to come.


© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany. This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Psychological Research. The final authenticated version is available online at:

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